Dennis Edwall

Are There Moral Standards?

Recommended Posts

Bob,

I believe the foundation of morality can be "deduced" to the same extent logic and math can. Can you "deduce" logic and math from the laws of reality? If not, why are they the basis of science? What makes logic or math any more valid than "existence exists" or the law of identity or causality?

As to morality, once you accept fundamental axioms, logic and math, including the law of identity applied to life, it is pretty easy to deduce values.

Michael

The basic postulates of logic and math are NOT deduced. They are assumed. All of mathematics and logic is based on assumptions. The selection of the basic postulates are guided to some extent by intuition, but it is surely not deduction.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Bob,

Then what is their connection to reality—the one that makes you demand that they be the "objective standard" for judging and deducing morality?

By your description of "based on intuition" and so forth, they sound pretty subjective to me.

Is all of science, which is based on them, subjective?

Michael

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Science has both objective and subjective aspects. We try to be objective but pure objectivity is impossible. Science is a human activity and as such contains some subjectivity.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Bob,

Then what is their connection to reality—the one that makes you demand that they be the "objective standard" for judging and deducing morality?

By your description of "based on intuition" and so forth, they sound pretty subjective to me.

Is all of science, which is based on them, subjective?

Michael

In the end all theories have to be testable against objective measurement and observation. There are two aspects to science:

1. Discovery

2. Justification.

Discovery is as creative and artistic as music or painting. Lots of right brain stuff going on. Plenty of intuition. That is the subjective part.

Justification is what keeps science honest. It is objective testing (with possible falsification) of theory and hypothesis.

I am speaking of Justification. Show me how morality arises from physical law and verify (or falsify) that by objective justification, which is to say measurement and experimentation.

Keep in mind, there is science and there is tiddly winks. Morality is tiddly winks. It is a human convention and has no direct derivation from physical law. The only objective comparison of moral codes is the body count when they are applied. The higher the body count the lower the quality of the moral code.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
In the end all theories have to be testable against objective measurement and observation.

Bob,

Otherwise what?

Otherwise there are either bullshit or tiddly winks. And I was referring to scientific theories or any theory that purports to say something about the world.

If you don't have a testable theory you either have a fantasy or a set of conventions which may be useful (or not). But conventions are arbitrary. There is no necessary truth to them or verifiable truth. Conventions are just sets of rules. Like the rules for chess. Or the rules for eating in public with a knife and fork (chewing with the mouth closed, of course). Conventions are contrivances or artifacts. Why is one convention better than another?

This is one of my gripes about Objectivism. Rand is telling us that a set of conventions (not derived from the laws of nature) is somehow provably true or valid while other conventions are somehow false or defective. She never proves her case. She only asserts it. Ditto for her theories on aesthetics. The only heuristic I can think of for moral codes is which moral codes are more likely to kill you if you follow them. At least there is a connection to human life which is of value to most humans. And of two or more moral systems with the same degree of lethality, what is the basis for preferring one to another.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
This is one of my gripes about Objectivism. Rand is telling us that a set of conventions (not derived from the laws of nature) is somehow provably true or valid while other conventions are somehow false or defective.

Bob,

How can you discuss Objectivism intelligently when you get this so wrong? You are claiming the exact opposite of what Rand wrote and saying she wrote what you said. Disagree, OK. But not this.

btw - You still have not mentioned which connection logic and math have to reality and why they should be used for testing the reality of theories.

Michael

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
This is one of my gripes about Objectivism. Rand is telling us that a set of conventions (not derived from the laws of nature) is somehow provably true or valid while other conventions are somehow false or defective.

Bob,

How can you discuss Objectivism intelligently when you get this so wrong? You are claiming the exact opposite of what Rand wrote and saying she wrote what you said. Disagree, OK. But not this.

She indeed says/writes they are derived from reality, but they are not. Man is the animal that gets to choose what he values, with no restrictions. The fact that muderers and heroes and criminals and everywhere in between have existed for the entire history of human history and continue to exist is evidence enough that you cannot judge their morality as objectively wrong no matter how much you dislike it.

This is not to say though that we can't 'judge' and punish criminals. I am fine with forcing my (or mostly so) version of morality on the masses because it confers the most advantages to me and my family etc., but it is indeed a vanity thing (my morals are superior) and a force thing (I support jailing deviants) because it confers advantage to me. However there still remains no objective basis for this position.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
btw - You still have not mentioned which connection logic and math have to reality and why they should be used for testing the reality of theories.

Are you familiar with a little set theory? You know, Venn diagrams? Notice the similarity between these and the way we categorize objects. Set theory is a formalization of this categorization process - one in which an object may;

1. Belong to a set

2. Not belong to a set

This is one connection between math and logic and reality - there are others. In math we can always say for sure whether an object is in a set or not but in reality it is not always so clear. For any given category in reality there will always be some cases where the objects characteristics are such that it may or may not belong to a given set. This is where subjectivity comes into play. So there is a relationship between mathematics and reality but it is not an exact "map", for example.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think an integral (Wilber) model is a good approach to understanding morality, the "I" "WE" and "IT" moralities.

Most individuals in this thread arguing that morality is a cultural product are correct on the "WE" perspective, maintaining essentially that morality is a function of our interpersonal environment and affiliations.

Those arguing that morality is based on objective standards (i.e. according to the nature of humans and the physical universe) seem to be arguing morality from the "IT" perspective. This is biological in nature, and therefore rests on science. Any statement that we cannot know the fundamental needs of man upon which morals are built is really a question of epistemology. In-as-much as we can understand gravity, colors, and food, we can understand biological needs and therefore "absolute morality." I believe this is what Rand founded her philosophy on.

The "I" morality is perhaps the most complex, and also has some considerations in terms of Objectivism. Not sure I've sorted this out myself, but just some thoughts: each person desires to experience something positive (referring N.Branden's book Psychology of Self Esteem on the nature of how man defines good and bad). This desire for positive experience can be through achievement, hedonism, or even pain. Notice some of the most interesting moralities encompassed by Eastern philosophies (e.g. compassionate action) are founded on internal experience.

When arguing about morality, perhaps it's best to look at all three perspectives. Generally I would argue that biological morality is aligned with personal morality (fulfilling needs is biologically healthy and man experiences positive feelings as a result). Cultural morality is the social environment through which man attempts to fulfill his needs. Of course, culture is a product of group and interpersonal affiliations, which also rests on biological needs tied to parts of our brain that experience empathy and caring, and of course we exeperience this, so it's tied to the "I". Therefore, all three moral perspectives are interlinked. Biology ("IT") supports both the "I" and "WE", and in turn the I and WE both support biology. Crazy, isn't it.

Thus, perfect universal morality = perfect alignment and integration of these three facets of morality.

Chris

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
This is one of my gripes about Objectivism. Rand is telling us that a set of conventions (not derived from the laws of nature) is somehow provably true or valid while other conventions are somehow false or defective.

Bob,

How can you discuss Objectivism intelligently when you get this so wrong? You are claiming the exact opposite of what Rand wrote and saying she wrote what you said. Disagree, OK. But not this.

She indeed says/writes they are derived from reality, but they are not. Man is the animal that gets to choose what he values, with no restrictions. The fact that muderers and heroes and criminals and everywhere in between have existed for the entire history of human history and continue to exist is evidence enough that you cannot judge their morality as objectively wrong no matter how much you dislike it.

This is not to say though that we can't 'judge' and punish criminals. I am fine with forcing my (or mostly so) version of morality on the masses because it confers the most advantages to me and my family etc., but it is indeed a vanity thing (my morals are superior) and a force thing (I support jailing deviants) because it confers advantage to me. However there still remains no objective basis for this position.

There is at least as much objective basis for "this position" as there is for your position. That is what you are claiming, isn't it? That her statemnts about morality are false and yours are true?

--Brant

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
This is one of my gripes about Objectivism. Rand is telling us that a set of conventions (not derived from the laws of nature) is somehow provably true or valid while other conventions are somehow false or defective.

Bob,

How can you discuss Objectivism intelligently when you get this so wrong? You are claiming the exact opposite of what Rand wrote and saying she wrote what you said. Disagree, OK. But not this.

She indeed says/writes they are derived from reality, but they are not. Man is the animal that gets to choose what he values, with no restrictions. The fact that muderers and heroes and criminals and everywhere in between have existed for the entire history of human history and continue to exist is evidence enough that you cannot judge their morality as objectively wrong no matter how much you dislike it.

This is not to say though that we can't 'judge' and punish criminals. I am fine with forcing my (or mostly so) version of morality on the masses because it confers the most advantages to me and my family etc., but it is indeed a vanity thing (my morals are superior) and a force thing (I support jailing deviants) because it confers advantage to me. However there still remains no objective basis for this position.

There is at least as much objective basis for "this position" as there is for your position. That is what you are claiming, isn't it? That her statemnts about morality are false and yours are true?

--Brant

"Morality" and "true/false" don't belong together in most cases (is/ought).

What I'm saying is that while I indeed have a morality that I prefer and will defend, I don't pretend that it's derivable from what "is". I just like it better and admit as much.

I happen to think that if there's any objective basis to morality at all, it lies in understanding evolution and derivatives like evolutionary psychology etc., and that many of these ideas are in contradiction to Rand's position - but that's another argument.

Currently reading a bunch of Richard Dawkins stuff - very tough to disagree with this guy (for me anyway).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
This is one of my gripes about Objectivism. Rand is telling us that a set of conventions (not derived from the laws of nature) is somehow provably true or valid while other conventions are somehow false or defective.

Bob,

How can you discuss Objectivism intelligently when you get this so wrong? You are claiming the exact opposite of what Rand wrote and saying she wrote what you said. Disagree, OK. But not this.

She indeed says/writes they are derived from reality, but they are not. Man is the animal that gets to choose what he values, with no restrictions. The fact that muderers and heroes and criminals and everywhere in between have existed for the entire history of human history and continue to exist is evidence enough that you cannot judge their morality as objectively wrong no matter how much you dislike it.

This is not to say though that we can't 'judge' and punish criminals. I am fine with forcing my (or mostly so) version of morality on the masses because it confers the most advantages to me and my family etc., but it is indeed a vanity thing (my morals are superior) and a force thing (I support jailing deviants) because it confers advantage to me. However there still remains no objective basis for this position.

There is at least as much objective basis for "this position" as there is for your position. That is what you are claiming, isn't it? That her statemnts about morality are false and yours are true?

--Brant

The falsity of Rand's assertion does not imply the truth of Bab-Mac's assertion.

In any case, Rand never demonstrated that moral law follows either causally or logically from physical law. She may have asserted it, but she never proved it.

There are several evolutionarily stable moral systems in effect right now which proves that our morality does not inevitably flow from our biological nature. The only requirement on a moral system is that it is consistent with the long term survival of our species.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The falsity of Rand's assertion does not imply the truth of Bab-Mac's assertion.

In any case, Rand never demonstrated that moral law follows either causally or logically from physical law. She may have asserted it, but she never proved it.

Isn't that just the point Bob Mac makes?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The only requirement on a moral system is that it is consistent with the long term survival of our species.

Ba'al Chatzaf

If we create a moral code how do we know it will lead to the long term survival of our species? Are there any of these in existence right now?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
There are several evolutionarily stable moral systems in effect right now which proves that our morality does not inevitably flow from our biological nature. The only requirement on a moral system is that it is consistent with the long term survival of our species.

You seem to be arguing against yourself. Consistent with long term survival is certainly "biological nature". But in any case, if you want to use evolution/biology (in other words - REALITY) as your framework, then stability is all that matters even if the trait/act taken on its own may not be consistent with long term survival of the species. Existence (or at least stability of existence) is all that matters. Homosexuality for example, stable but inconsistent...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
This is one of my gripes about Objectivism. Rand is telling us that a set of conventions (not derived from the laws of nature) is somehow provably true or valid while other conventions are somehow false or defective.

Bob,

How can you discuss Objectivism intelligently when you get this so wrong? You are claiming the exact opposite of what Rand wrote and saying she wrote what you said. Disagree, OK. But not this.

She indeed says/writes they are derived from reality, but they are not. Man is the animal that gets to choose what he values, with no restrictions. The fact that muderers and heroes and criminals and everywhere in between have existed for the entire history of human history and continue to exist is evidence enough that you cannot judge their morality as objectively wrong no matter how much you dislike it.

This is not to say though that we can't 'judge' and punish criminals. I am fine with forcing my (or mostly so) version of morality on the masses because it confers the most advantages to me and my family etc., but it is indeed a vanity thing (my morals are superior) and a force thing (I support jailing deviants) because it confers advantage to me. However there still remains no objective basis for this position.

There is at least as much objective basis for "this position" as there is for your position. That is what you are claiming, isn't it? That her statemnts about morality are false and yours are true?

--Brant

The falsity of Rand's assertion does not imply the truth of Bab-Mac's assertion.

In any case, Rand never demonstrated that moral law follows either causally or logically from physical law. She may have asserted it, but she never proved it.

There are several evolutionarily stable moral systems in effect right now which proves that our morality does not inevitably flow from our biological nature. The only requirement on a moral system is that it is consistent with the long term survival of our species.

All moral systems "inevitably flow from our biological nature." When we are conquered by aliens from outer space and they impose their morality on us then the contrary becomes a true statement. However, philosophy is not physics. There is no physical law involved save, perhaps, that there will be moralities, implicit and explicit. That's the nature of the animal. It is in trying to be rational about moral choice and systems that Objectivism posits rational self-interest as its ethical base. It is only imposed through its political expression in law and then only implicitly. The sole legitimate function of a government being the protection of individual rights is effectively forced on a country and its citizens. To object to the function, as opposed to the form, is to object to that role and to say, "We want the right to violate rights."

--Brant

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
All moral systems "inevitably flow from our biological nature." When we are conquered by aliens from outer space and they impose their morality on us then the contrary becomes a true statement. However, philosophy is not physics. There is no physical law involved save, perhaps, that there will be moralities, implicit and explicit. That's the nature of the animal. It is in trying to be rational about moral choice and systems that Objectivism posits rational self-interest as its ethical base. It is only imposed through its political expression in law and then only implicitly. The sole legitimate function of a government being the protection of individual rights is effectively forced on a country and its citizens. To object to the function, as opposed to the form, is to object to that role and to say, "We want the right to violate rights."

--Brant

There is no unique and preferred moral system that flows from our biological nature. The existence of several moral systems both in the present and through the ages proves this. Since morality is not uniquely determined the moral system operative in any place at a given time is a matter of convention (which is what I have been saying in several ways). It is like deciding which side of the road to drive on. The linear nature of roads demands that we have some rule of traffic flow to make the roads workable. Which rule (right or left hand) is a matter of convention. Moral systems are somewhat like this. Our moral systems are constrained by our nature but they are not determined by our nature.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Edited by BaalChatzaf

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Bob Mac,

As the bar is now at a good level and time has passed, I am removing the posting restrictions. Please do not lower the bar. Although we disagree on some issues, I enjoy the present level of discussion. I believe the other posters do, too.

Michael

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
It is in trying to be rational about moral choice and systems that Objectivism posits rational self-interest as its ethical base.

I'd be fine if it stopped there, but it doesn't. You have to add "justified by objective reality (man qua man)" and so on to accurately state the position. She denies the "ought" and that simply doesn't fly for numerous reasons.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
It is in trying to be rational about moral choice and systems that Objectivism posits rational self-interest as its ethical base.

I'd be fine if it stopped there, but it doesn't. You have to add "justified by objective reality (man qua man)" and so on to accurately state the position. She denies the "ought" and that simply doesn't fly for numerous reasons.

I stopped there because I don't know enough about human beings to say much more. And I know now at the age of 64 much more than Ayn Rand ever did. But she got the essence right. I don't think I ever would have on my own.

--Brant

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The way I see it there was before the wheel, Ayn Rand, then after the (invention of) the wheel. Human societies have existed for centuries without the wheel.

--Brant

Edited by Brant Gaede

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
There is no unique and preferred moral system that flows from our biological nature. The existence of several moral systems both in the present and through the ages proves this. Since morality is not uniquely determined the moral system operative in any place at a given time is a matter of convention (which is what I have been saying in several ways). It is like deciding which side of the road to drive on. The linear nature of roads demands that we have some rule of traffic flow to make the roads workable. Which rule (right or left hand) is a matter of convention. Moral systems are somewhat like this. Our moral systems are constrained by our nature but they are not determined by our nature.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Before claiming that all morality is subjective, it is hard to avoid the fact that moral judgments elicit emotions. Note for example that psychopaths can spout morality from the mouth, but have no actual motivation to pursue moral behaviors in society precisely because they feel nothing in response to the action.

Since morality is based on emotion, we have to look at the purpose and origination of emotion to understand what guides seemingly subjective behaviors into moral meaning. My take is that since cognition was not the tool our earliest used to survive (analytical thinking came after we survived generations on emotional drives), emotions were the tools man followed to survive. Implicit in emotional motives were the blueprints (i.e. needs) for survival, and that is how man successfully did so. Therefore, the mere fact that something today elicits "moral emotions" means that at some level our biology has associated that behavior to fulfilling a very basic biological need.

Cultures can institute desired moral policies, but at some level the body must associate that policy to biological survival if it is to in fact become successfully (emotionally) adopted. Therefore, within every moral structure that a culture proposes and is adopted by society, there is some kernal of need-fulfillment taking place.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Before claiming that all morality is subjective, it is hard to avoid the fact that moral judgments elicit emotions.

. . .

Since morality is based on emotion...

Christopher,

I have trouble understanding this from a causal perspective. In your view, does morality elicit emotions or do emotions cause morality?

Or is it more complex?

For the record, I happen to think it is more complex since some values are prewired, some values are prewired to develop automatically with growth, and some values are chosen, and some prewiring can be undone through choice. On the emotional side, some emotions are prewired, some are indicative of intense trauma (or positive experience) and even deep verbal premises, and many can be influenced by conscious choice.

I understand that morality must take all this into account. Most all of this can be broken down further and quantified for comparison. Anytime you can do that, it is not subjective. (I'm not saying you believe this. I'm just clarifying my view since others do hold this.)

Michael

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...